Overview: There were no successful terrorist attacks in Bahrain in 2019, but domestic security forces conducted numerous operations to preempt and disrupt attack planning. The Government of Bahrain (GOB) is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and supported U.S. government counterterrorism efforts. Political relations between the predominantly Sunni-led government and Shia-majority opposition remained tense, exacerbated by the July execution of two Bahraini Shia convicted on terrorism charges. According to press and NGO reports, confessions are usually obtained through torture, and mistreatment and abuse of Shia persons by security forces continues. GOB initiated numerous programs intended to improve community and security force relations. Bahrain experienced periodic low-level violence in predominantly Bahraini Shia villages, usually to mark notable dates of importance, such as the anniversary of the 2011 political unrest.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Bahrain in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the GOB ratified amendments to Bahrain’s 2006 Anti-Terror Law that allows for penalties of up to five years in prison for encouraging or possessing materials that support “terrorist activities.”
Throughout the year, Bahrain continued to conduct security operations targeting suspected militants. Individuals apprehended during security raids were tried in Bahraini courts, and some were convicted of involvement in terrorism-related activities. In April, a Bahraini court sentenced to prison 139 Bahrainis, of whom 69 received life sentences (25 years), on terrorism charges; the court also ordered the revocation of their citizenships. The GOB accused the individuals of forming an organization it referred to as “Bahraini Hizballah” with the intention of carrying out attacks in Bahrain. Also in April, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa restored the citizenship of 551 prisoners, some of whom were convicted of terrorism. On October 31, the judiciary issued life sentences to five nationals for “forming a terrorist cell” affiliated with al-Ashtar Brigades.
In July, Bahrain executed two individuals who were found guilty in January 2018 of involvement in terrorist operations that led to the death of a Ministry of Interior police officer in 2017. The executions prompted demonstrations particularly in Bahraini Shia villages, and one 22-year-old protester died from what the GOB said was natural causes. Subsequent protests in response to the youth’s death were non-violent.
Bahraini law enforcement agencies participated in training and technical assistance offered by the U.S. government.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Financial Intelligence Directorate, is a member of the Egmont Group. Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s CIFG and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC).
On August 28, the GOB convicted nine suspects of receiving and transferring funds to support terrorist activities; authorities handed down maximum jail terms of six years and imposed fines of up to $37,695.
On December 2, in collaboration with other TFTC member states, Bahrain imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region.
As of December 2, Bahrain added “Hizballah of Bahrain, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the 14 February Youth Coalition, al-Ashtar Brigades, People’s Resistance Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Bahrain Freedom Movement” to its terror list.
Countering Violent Extremism: The GOB continued its efforts to adopt a national strategy in line with the UN Secretary-General’s “Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action.” Additionally, numerous officials from the GOB and local NGOs developed programming targeting youth and other vulnerable populations.
The GOB attempted outreach through initiatives such as the community police, which bridges the divide between the Bahraini Shia community and police force. In March, the Interior Minister launched the “National Plan to Promote the Spirit of Belonging,” a program intended to foster a shared Bahraini identity. An executive committee was formed to oversee ministry activities under the initiative, also known as Bahrainuna (We are Bahrain).
There is no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although GOB leaders often speak publicly about tolerance and reducing sectarian rhetoric. GOB restrictions on freedom of religion, expression, assembly, and association may also increase the likelihood of radicalization.
A large number of Bahraini Shia youths serving prison sentences related to crimes committed during Bahrain’s 2011 political unrest are expected to be released within the next several years. Prison conditions may increase the likelihood of radicalization.
International and Regional Cooperation: As of December 2019, members of the Bahrain Defense Force were deployed in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi militants and al-Qai’da in the Arabian Peninsula. Bahrain is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. Bahrain continued to offer its support for countering Iran’s malign activities in the region.